By Terrance Turner
Feb. 26, 2022
Tonight, the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People honored the best and brightest in African-American achievement at the NAACP Image Awards. Outstanding achievers in music, film, and television were honored. But some of the most notable honorees were for activism, with the Association recognizing those making an impact o the social justice front.
The first award of the night(for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series) went to Sterling K. Brown, for his portrayal of Randall Pearson on “This is Us”. Brown’s work on the show earned him the best actor Emmy in 2017; he was the first black actor to win since Andre Braugher in the 1990s. But Brown was nonetheless surprised to receive this honor. “I got way too many white folks on my show to win this award,” he joked, while thanking his costar Susan Kelechi Watson along with the entire cast: “There’s no Randall without Beth,” he said.
The award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series went to Angela Bassett for her work on the FOX drama “911”. Visibly shocked at receiving the honor, Bassett thanked her fellow nominees for work that she aid was “nuanced and beautiful and inspiring”. She also thanked Ryan Murphy and her costars on “911”.
Samuel L. Jackson received the Chairman’s Award for his activism, which started while he was at Morehouse College. (Jackson became politically active while in college, where he’d begun studying in 1966. According to the NAACP Board of Directors’ chairman, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackson served as an usher at the funeral. He once held Martin Luther King Sr. hostage, as part of his efforts to improve curricula at Morehouse. According to Parade magazine, “In 1969, Jackson and other radical students held members of the Morehouse College board of trustees hostage on campus, demanding reform in the school’s curriculum and governance. The college eventually agreed to change, but Jackson was expelled.”) Jackson tonight spoke of the need to use “our voices and our legs and our bodies” to effect real change.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to grow up in a lot of different areas where I had the opportunity to use my voice, my legs, my body to fight for things that were right – from civil rights to the Vietnam War to Morehouse College and a lot of other things that needed fixing and changing, and we got it done,” Jackson said. “And right now, we still have things that we need to do. The most important thing being the Voting Rights Act. I know we can’t change that, but we can put our legs, our bodies, and our voices to work to make sure that people do get out and vote no matter what they do to keep us from doing it.”
The award for outstanding actress in a comedy series went to Issa Rae, for “Insecure.’ Miss Rae was not (yet) in attendance, so host Anthony Anderson accepted the award on her behalf (after at first pretending to accept it for Tracee Ellis Ross, his costar on “Blackish”. She was nominated in that category). Predictably, the award for outstanding actor in a comedy series went to Anthony Anderson (for “Blackish”). Anderson excitedly grabbed and shook the camera upon learning of his win.
“I’m just a kid from Compton. So shout out Compton, California – if you have a dream and you believe, anything is possible,” Anderson said in his speech, before asking his mom if she’d like to share more words. “’Bout time y’all got it right,” she said, with Anderson replying, “No, mama, they got it right the last eight years.” (This is Anderson’s 8th NAACP Image Award.)
Actress Kerry Washington presented the Social Justice Impact award to author and journalist Nicole Hannah Jones who broke ground — and also attracted a lot of detractors — with her landmark 1619 Project. The provocative essay project addressed the societal and economic impact of America’s original sin: slavery. “We are a society that willfully does not want to deal with the anti-blackness that is at the core of so many of our institutions,” Hannah-Jones said in the package that preceded her award. In her speech, she highlighted the importance of the NAACP image awards for her: “I grew up watching these awards,” she said, “and as a student of history, I know that the work that I do, the life that I live, would not be possible without the decades-long work of the NAACP to force this country to live up to its highest ideals.”
Later the award for outstanding comedy series went to “Insecure” and Issa Rae — who wrote the show’s final episode — finally showed up to accept the award. Resplendent in a pink mini ball gown, Rae thanked the cast and crew of the groundbreaking HBO show, with special as shoutouts to costars Yvonne Orji and Jay Ellis. “I am so honored,” Rae said while accepting her award.
Jennifer Hudson won Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture for playing Aretha Franklin in the biopic respect. ” I did not expect this, but Lord knows I’m grateful,” Hudson said while accepting her award. The award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture went to Will Smith for “King Richard”. Smith said that playing Richard Williams was one of the greatest honors of his career: “Richard Williams was a man with a dream and that dream was considered insane to a lot of people,” Smith said. But Williams’ dream paid off: he succeeded in pushing his daughters Venus and Serena to tennis superstardom; now Smith is an Image Award winner and Academy Award nominee for playing him.
In perhaps the most prestigious honor of the night, the Duke an duchess of Sussex were presented with the President’s Award. Prince Harry and mwwghan Markle were honored for their role in spurring transformational change with their Archewell Foundation, which has helped with food distribution in foreign nations, equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines around the world, and more. According to The Guardian, the two have endeavored to help a woman’s shelter in Texas, their promotion of Covid vaccine equity and a partnership to create community relief centers. Derrick Johnson, the NAACP president, said the couple had “heeded the call to social justice and have joined the struggle for equity both in the US and around the world”.
“It’s inspiring to think about the legacy of the Image Awards, which began shortly after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed into law,” Meghan said after the couple walked on stage together. “Today, we can continue that legacy by re-establishing federal voting protections in our country and fulfilling the work of civil rights giants, like the late John Lewis. We are so deeply humbled to be here in the company of so many illustrious awardees.”
Harry added, “Before I begin, we would like to acknowledge the people of Ukraine, who urgently need our continued support as a global community. And I also echo the immense gratitude for tonight, both for this award and to this community for welcoming me so warmly. I think it’s safe to say that I come from a very different background from my incredible wife, yet our lives were brought together for a reason. We share a commitment to a life of service, a responsibility to combat injustice and a belief that the most often overlooked are the most important to listen to.”
Meghan then said, “And I couldn’t be prouder that we’re doing this work together. We moved to California, my home state, shortly before the murder of George Floyd. For Black America, those nine minutes and 29 seconds transcended time, invoking centuries of our unhealed wounds. In the months that followed, as my husband and I spoke with the civil rights community, we committed ourselves and our organization, Archewell, to illuminating those who are advancing racial justice and progress.”
To that end, the two have partnered with the NAACP to create the NAACP Archewell Digital Civil Rights award, which will be given annually to those affecting transformational change in the intersection of social justice and technology. The 2022 inaugural recipient of the NAACP-Archewell Digital Civil Rights Award is renowned author and scholar Dr. Safiya Noble, who has pioneered the study of how digital technologies intersect with culture, race, and gender.
The award for Entertainer of the Year went to Jennifer Hudson. She thanked the legends that came before her in her speech. “It’s because of seeing the Arethas, and the Patti Labelles, the Halle Berrys, all those legends, that inspired me. So thank you, NAACP, for inspiring girls like me,” Hudson said.